Works in Progress // Jocelyn

Suffering from years of abuse by a family member, Jocelyn’s mental health issues began at an early age. Pushing through a period of darkness, she was able to find the light through a combination of nutrition, consistent movement, and self-care.

Meet Jocelyn.

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Name: Jocelyn Zahn

Age: 25

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

(TW/CW: Suicidal ideation, self-harm, eating disorders, sexual abuse)

I have been diagnosed with PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder and have also battled orthorexia and anorexia.

My mental health issues arose at a young age. During my childhood, I suffered years of sexual abuse by a family member. At age 12, my life felt as though it was falling apart for the very first time. After going through the Texas public school system and taking “sex education”, which was really only abstinence only education, as an 7th grader, I began to panic. The system failed me entirely and I believed the abuse was my fault. I was scared, alone, and felt as though I couldn’t tell anyone what happened to me because they would view me as a sinner. When you’re young, you don’t always understand the concept of abuse, I certainly didn’t. And the “sex education” I received only left me feeling isolated and hopeless.

This was the first time I can recall staring a hole through my knife drawer in my home in San Antonio. This was the first time I envisioned what it would be like to take my own life…and I wanted to. The suicidal ideations have been a part of me almost every day since.

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

Well, I was truly pushed to my limit before I decided to reach out for help. The first time I received mental health treatment of any kind was when I was hospitalized at 18 for suicidal ideation. This was a result of me coming out and having negative backlash-to say the least. I lost almost everything and everyone I loved (at least for a time) and I wanted to throw in the towel. Though, I definitely wish I had received help earlier.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

While I am ecstatic to say my life is beautiful and fulfilling now, I still live with my mental illness every day. I have come to learn and accept the fact that it is a part of me, a part I will live with forever. Because of this, I have shifted my focus from trying to “rid myself” of my mental illness to learning how to cope with it daily.

I have learned coping skills that work for me, my mind, and my body. Developing these skills certainly looks different for everyone, but for me, I have found great success in balancing my mood through food, movement, and spirituality.

90% of our serotonin (some people call this the ‘happy’ chemical, or the ‘feel good hormone’) is made in our gut. This has been an incredible thing for me to focus on and experiment with due to the fact that the biggest daily challenge I face in regards to my mental illness, is volatile mood swings. Gut health has saved me a whole lot of random ‘crying for no reason’ tears or ‘lashing out at someone for no reason’ moments. I have found a balance of nutritious and not so nutritious food that works for me to maintain a steady mood throughout the day.

Other than that, incorporating consistent movement has been a life saver for me. Due to years of suppressed trauma, I have a whole lot internalized anger. Moving my body intuitively gives me the outlet I need to release this anger and anxiety. As you can imagine, this helps balance my mood, as well.

A couple years back, I learned that me and almost my entire immediate family has some pretty severe vitamin deficiencies. This was so helpful to learn (KNOWLEDGE IS POWER haha). To combat my almost daily suicidal ideations, I take a Vitamin D supplement, as I am lacking quite severely in that area.

I also practice affirmations, daily self-care, and tarot card readings- as they help me feel more connected to something bigger than myself and my own problems.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

Wow. This is an excellent question. Contrary to popular belief, living with a mental illness has not been all negative for me. Living with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more has made me a much more empathetic person than most people I know. It has given me the skill of powerful and active listening. It has taught me so much about what it means to be “good enough” as a human being on this earth. It has given me perspective. It has also led me to the career of my dreams. All of which, I wouldn’t trade for the world.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

If I could tell younger me one thing, it would be that no matter how much the darkness is consuming me at any given moment, it is not me. Darkness lives inside of me because of things that have happened to me, yes. But the light is a part of me.

I would tell myself that as alone as I feel at times, I don’t have to carry my burden alone.

 

Learn more about how Jocelyn has turned her mess into her message at Holistic Self-Love!

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments and you could be featured on the blog!

Works in Progress // Maria Elena

With anorexia controlling every curve of her body, Maria would feel suicidal if she didn’t have the perfect weight. Fueled by the constant validation she received from being “skinny,” she eventually discovered that something was wrong.

Reaching out to counselors, family and close friends, she was met with comments that downplayed her pain and even congratulated her figure. Taking matters into her own hands, she decided to save herself with help from her boyfriend and close friends.

On a mission to love her body just the way it is, meet Maria Elena and read her story below.

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Name: Maria Elena

Age: 21

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

Once I hit high school, I noticed I started to gain some weight. Anytime I would sit down, my stomach rolls would sit down at the top of my thighs, making me feel oddly uncomfortable. I felt worthless. I started to analyze the women around me, fawning after the skinny ones and fat shaming the not-so-skinny ones. If I wasn’t the skinniest girl in the room, I would feel suicidal. I kept pushing myself further and further until I could feel each and every bone in my body. 

My fuel wasn’t food, it was comments like, “How is your waist so small? Your figure is perfect! Omg, body goals. How did you lose so much weight? Ahhh you’re so tiny and cute!” That’s how my eating disorder developed. It wasn’t even affecting my every daily life…that’s an understatement. It WAS my everyday life. All I thought about was counting calories and my thinspos. It was my obsession.

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

Sadly, I never got professional help despite my desperate need for it. I talked to two school counselors, two doctors, several online chats / hotlines, quite a few friends, and even my family, but everyone downplayed my issues and sometimes even congratulated my figure. I had to take matters into my own hands. I’m not blaming anyone specifically for what happened; I’m blaming the diet-obsessed society that sees my past behavior as normal and even inspiring. I knew I had to save myself. Obviously, I did have some help along the way. Art, documentaries,  inspiring articles, and the support from my boyfriend and close friends.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Every now and then I’ll fall into anorexia nostalgia. It’s like, I’ll miss the attention or validation I got when I had an eating disorder. Or I’ll miss fitting into smaller clothes. I miss being seen as small, fragile, cute. I’ll miss the feeling of having complete control over my life. Honestly, it gets hard sometimes and I don’t think I’d be able to cope if society hasn’t changed as much as it did since I had an eating disorder. I live in a diverse city now and society has become more accepting of all body types. That’s what keeps me sane.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

Empathy. Sooo much empathy. I can feel energies the moment I walk into a room. I can look at someone’s social media feed or talk to them for a few minutes and my heart will FEEL them. I have a hard time hating even my worst enemies because I know they might be dealing with some sort of pain and I don’t want to make them feel even half of what I once felt. People with mental illness are often portrayed as bullies, but I think it’s made me more considerate towards peoples’ feelings.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

I know you think the world will end if you gain weight, but that is nothing but a lie. In the future, you won’t be skinny, but guess what? You will love yourself, so much. You will inspire thousands of people with your words. You will live in a huge city and still thrive. You will have someone that loves all of your rolls and curves more than you could even imagine. You will eat the best foods the world has to offer and you’ll enjoy every second of it. And you’ll still be beautiful. 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below to be featured on the blog! 

Anxiety Art // What’s The Title Of Your Anxiety Novel?

Words mean the world. Wanting to incorporate my love of literature into my next Anxiety Art series, I asked two incredibly talented souls this question:

If your anxiety was a book, what would be the title? 

 

A question near and dear to my heart, I had so much fun brainstorming and working with these wonderful women on beautifully authentic results. Whether you’re a fan of sci-fi, romance, YA or fantasy, check out these books that break the stigma:

 

Morgan Stinson 

Thankful she’s made her way back into my life, Morgan has always been the creative type. When she’s not kicking ass at roller derby or playing with her pup Blue, she bravely fights anxiety and depression. Rekindling her love of drawing, I asked her to draw the title of her anxiety novel, and here’s the horror genre she created!

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“When I get anxious or have an anxiety episode, I become paranoid. I overthink and irrationally react to every little thing, often pushing those closest to me away. My fears eat away at me like some unseen parasite inside my body, hoping to make an escape and wreak havoc upon my world. I become a whole other entity, and often wonder what had gotten into me after I’ve relaxed and have calmed down.

One of my favorite films is John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” and I believe that if my anxiety were a book, it’d have a similar premise. A young woman is terrorized by an entity inside her that changes her into a hideous, grotesque, terrifying monster. The twist? Well I don’t want to spoil it for you, but she manages to develop a cure and overcomes the creature within! No matter how many times “The Thing” tries to take over, I always manage to wrangle it in before it’s done too much damage. I’m also getting better at preventing it from even appearing, and am proud to say that I am no longer afraid of the monster. I am at peace with it.”

 

Sanna

A truly talented Finland-based artist, Sanna expresses her creativity through pins, keychains and other adorable, yet stigma breaking, accessories. Before I asked her to be part of this series, I stumbled across her profile due to my growing obsession with pins. With the ability to customize her pins, she did me the immense honor of creating a few unique pieces for Anxiety Erica (here they are first because I will be showing these off any chance I get):

 

Aware of her serious skill, I then asked her to be part of Anxiety Art. Unsure on what she had created, she sent her piece over to me with signs of self doubt, but boy was she wrong – it’s so beautiful. Although some things aren’t always what we picture them to be, the end result can surprise us in ways we never expected. Sharing her story with mental illness publicly for the first time, here is Sanna’s art.

 

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“I’m Sanna, an almost 30-year-old who’s been battling mental illness for a good two thirds of my life. I had my first anxiety attack at the age of eleven. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed in my room and being consumed by an unnamed terror no child should ever have to experience. Cue almost twenty years later, I’m still battling the same demons, but now I can put names on most of them. 

I’ve learned that I’m highly sensitive, an empath, and how despite having two loving parents, certain things in my childhood (like my father’s illness and untimely death and being bullied in school) forced me to develop coping mechanisms that are hurtful now as an adult. Most of all, I’ve learned that recovery and getting to know who you really are isn’t linear, it’s a ~spiral~.

Hence the name I chose if I ever were to turn my life into a book. Even when I feel like it’s one step forward, two steps back, I know that I always learn something whenever I make even the slightest bit of progress. These days, I have a day job as a registered nurse (not something I wish to keep doing for the rest of my life, but it’ll do for now), but in my free time I make jewelry, pins and other knick-knacks for mental health awareness.

During my years fighting my own fight I’ve noticed the stigma of mental illness isn’t as bad as it used to be, but it’s still there, and I want to be a part of making it less so.”

 

 

Every time I do this series, I’m amazed at the raw, powerful beauty that artists can bring into the world with just a pen. Thank you so much to these awesome women for sharing their stories and creating work that will help others heal.

 

Are you an artist that supports mental health? Share your story and you might be featured on the next Anxiety Art series! 

Works in Progress // Kimberly

Struggling with depression since she was just 12 years old, Kimberly quit her job of 13 years in a major episode of mania. It wasn’t until she spent time both in jail and a mental institution that the time had come to get help.

Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I, Kimberly has learned that sometimes family can be the company of close friends. Refusing to let the lack of family support stop her recovery, this brave woman inspires others through her work. Writing a novel entitled It’s My Life and I’ll Cry If I Want Too: The Diary of a Bipolar Woman. read Kimberly’s journey below. 

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Name: Kimberly

Age: 50

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

My life was pretty up and down before I experienced mental health symptoms. I had a lot of mood swings and what I now know of manic behavior. However, I did manage to graduate from high school and I obtained a good job with the federal government as a civil service employee. I am a 50 year old African American woman and I have lived in San Diego, California most of my life. I experienced a lot of depression from the time I was 12 years old. I experienced mania that made me impulsive and sometimes reckless with my behavior. I quit my job of 13 years in a bout of mania and tried to take my life or self-harm on several occasions. I divorced twice and my life was in a state of chaos. When I finally went to the doctor, I was 28 years old. Initially, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and two years later, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I. 

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I was quite happy to get the diagnoses, but I was confused and didn’t know what to expect in my life going forward. I took my medication as prescribed and managed to live for a few years symptom free. It took me many years to find my acceptance. It wasn’t until I spent five months in jail and one month in a state mental institution did I begin to accept my illness. However, in an intensive outpatient behavioral health program, I learned that I could find peace and a sense of normalcy in my life.

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Recovery today is beautiful. I live a lifestyle that embraces recovery. I practice coping skills everyday through lots of things. I like to read and write and I use a lot of pet therapy with my two year old puppy Emma. I practice good eating and sleeping habits and I am an author today. Initially, my family was afraid of me and did not want anything to do with me because of my challenges. Fortunately, I had some good friends that only wanted to know how they could help. I embraced them and found a good support group.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

One piece of advice that I’d give myself today would be not to allow a lack of family support to stop me. I learned the hard way that help and support is available in many forms. There are helplines, Outpatient Programs, support groups, doctors and nurses who have all helped me in my journey in one way or another.

It’s hard still for my community to accept a mental health diagnoses. Some of them don’t believe that it is legitimate. Most believe that I just need more of God and that he can heal me if I wanted him to. Despite this, I have worked diligently to educate my peers though community work. I currently speak for NAMI’s In Our Own Voice program and I am a recent author. The name of my book is It’s My Life and I’ll Cry If I Want Too: The Diary of a Bipolar Woman. I hope to inspire others to tell their stories and not to be ashamed of some of the things that come along with mental illness.

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog!

Works in Progress // Dani

Initially misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder and OCD, Dani was struggling at school and other aspects of life. Finally officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder and GAD, she was prone to rash, impulsive decisions such as walking out of class and quitting college entirely.

It wasn’t until January of this year that she took the leap and sought therapy. Grateful for her growth, read Dani’s story of fueling her space and dealing with her mental health.

 

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Name: Dani Pope

Age: 28

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I was initially misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder and OCD. After, further assessments, I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I was aware of something going on at an early age; certain behaviors, emotions and actions just became “normal” to me for so long and I felt as if I was sinking into a dark hole and losing grip of myself. I would make such impulsive decisions, I was in my last year of undergrad and I literally walked out in the middle of class, stormed down to the admissions office and withdrew myself from college. I quit school.

I was feeling on top of the world and like ‘PFFT. I don’t need this. Fuck school.’ Now, I am actively pursuing my Master’s of Science degree in Nutrition and Integrative Health with a concentration in Human Clinical Nutrition. The taste of impulse is still there, but I check in with myself multiple times throughout the day. By the way, that was just one of the many rash decisions I’ve made in my life. I am committed to a healthier and happier me.

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

My wife and I were living in Moab, UT when I began experiencing severe anxiety and ongoing depression. I’ve lived with anxiety and depression throughout my entire life, but I reached my breaking point with the daily suffocation of anxious thoughts, major depressive episodes and draining emotional outbursts. January of this year is when I decided that it was time to seek professional help. I’m not going to lie, I was scared shitless at first, but I needed to do this for myself.

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?  

My life will never be the same. Not in a negative way, but in a rejuvenated and enlightened type of way. I have a deeper appreciation for the smallest of things. I take joy in things I easily took for granted before. Every day isn’t perfect, but I am grateful for my growth.  

 

I am more patient with myself, my mental health condition and my healing journey.

I am more aware in dealing with depressive and hypomanic episodes.

If I am feeling a lack of energy or in a low mood, I will not force myself to interact or be a part of activities, conversations, events. etc. for the sake of others. My mental health comes first, no matter what. 

 I am opening myself up to real and raw conversations to those around me. I am working on expressing myself in a healthy manner, without closing up or painfully pretending. 

 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?  

Living with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder has benefited my life in a number of ways. I now have an entirely renewed perspective on life and living. Some days, I’ll just want to stay in bed. Some days, I won’t have the energy to take our dog out, shower, put away the dishes or wash my hair, and that’s okay. Every day won’t be a walk in the park and some days will bring their own set of challenges, but I am strong as hell and I know that I am able to push through those low times.

Living with multiple mental illnesses has forced me to take better care of my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. I feel as though I am a part of something bigger than myself and my voice is needed to help fight the stigma against mental illness. I’ve gained a sense of confidence in my friendships, relationships and taking time for things that positively fill and fuel my space.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?  

It may seem impossible right now and the days may seem so dark, but you will not fail. This struggle will only make you stronger and build you into the imperfect perfect person you are meant to be.

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog! 

Skin Deep // Linn

A secret shame for most people with mental illness, skin picking isn’t a disorder regularly talked about – until now. Picking her skin for as long as she can remember, Linn’s habit began innocently. Growing into a full forced act that seemed to calm her anxiety, it felt like something she needed to do.

Sharing her story of recovery piece by piece, Linn is constantly conquering dermatillomania. Opening up about her journey through Instagram, meet Linn and learn some tips on how she battles the body image challenges that come with skin picking. 

 

 

 

Wounds. Scabs. Loose skin. Spots. Blemishes. Imperfections. We all get them, and I’m willing to bet we’ve all picked them at some point. In itself, this isn’t a problem. However, if you – like me – feel the need to pick to ease uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, intrusive thoughts, stress etc, it becomes one. When you – like me – often don’t realize you’re picking until the damage is done, it’s a problem. When this leads to a vicious cycle of thoughts and an urge to pick even more, it’s definitely a problem. So why don’t I just stop? That, my friends, is where it becomes an issue.

I have been a picker for longer than I can remember. I guess it started as an innocent habit of picking at loose skin around my fingernails to smooth it out. Seems harmless enough, and it is – until it turns into a compulsive act – something you feel like you need to do. And why stop with loose skin when there are so many other imperfections to “sort out”?

I often catch myself picking, and often I don’t even realize I’m picking until someone snaps me out of it by telling me to stop. I zone out. I get into a trance-like state where my fingers wander over my skin on autopilot as if they’re searching for something to pick at. Despite the resulting damage, the picking does help ease the discomfort in my mind that triggered it in the first place.

It was only a few years ago that I found out there is a name for what I thought was just an anxious habit. Dermatillomania, skin picking disorder, excoriation disorder, compulsive skin picking – call it what you will, it’s not pretty. This is closely linked with anxiety and OCD, and for me, anxiety is definitely a big trigger. The truth is, there are a number of reasons why I do it. A perceived need for smooth, flawless skin, which is ironic considering the damage it causes. A need for control, which I don’t possess when I’m searching my skin for spots to pick. Relief from anxiety, which it does give me most times, but only until the regret kicks in. And on the cycle goes. With time however, I’ve gotten better at dealing with the aftermath of my picking. Most times I can forgive myself and move on but other times, I get extremely self-conscious and feel like everyone can see how broken my skin is, when in reality it might not even look that bad.

Thankfully, there is help for this condition, and there are things you can do if you struggle with skin picking. It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am now, but I would like to share some tips that help me.

I try to be mindful of where I put my hands when I’m bored or anxious. I sometimes use a fidget toy to keep my hands occupied instead of tracing my fingers over my skin. I also try to keep my nails short, but what I think helps me the most, is taking care of my skin. In all honesty, I was never that big on skincare and skincare routines until I was shown the benefits it can have. Cleansers, moisturizers, facial scrubs, masks – you name it, I’ve probably tried it. What this does for me is it makes me associate touching my skin (mainly my face) with something positive – something I do out of love rather than discontentment. It doesn’t always stop me picking but it does reduce it, and sometimes, that’s enough. After all, a small step forward is still a step forward.

 

 

 

Do you struggle with a skin picking disorder? Share your story in the comments below. 

Works in Progress // Sanya

***** Trigger warning: sexual assault*****

Since she was just 11 years old, Sanya has been combatting suicidal thoughts. Moving from the U.S. to India at a young age, she was forced to adapt to countless changes. Suffering through anxiety with school, depression and sexual assault, Sanya eventually made the decision to focus on her mental health.

Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, she still has her low days. The difference is, she now has the tools to save herself when slipping. Raising her voice and sharing an important story of strength within the mental health community online, meet Sanya.

 

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Name: Sanya Singh

Age: 25

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time? 

The first time I thought of committing suicide was when I was 11 years old. My parents had moved us from the US to India and the cultural shock was too much for me to handle. I was bullied in school, I didn’t know the local language and basically everything sucked. While going through puberty I had a lot of angst, I started self-harming and even attempted taking my life multiple times. I thought all this was normal teenage angst. I didn’t realize that this was not the norm. I struggled with body image issues throughout high school, more bullying, erratic relationships and a mess of other things.

I thought going away to college would solve all my problems. I enrolled myself into Boston University. The first semester there, I tried drinking away my sadness. I felt isolated, misunderstood and like my soul was being sucked out of me. Second semester I tried taking several pills, I tell everyone that I stopped because my mom called me but in reality I called her. I didn’t want to die, but I also did? The summer after my second semester I went to a psychiatrist – he diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. I didn’t like him at all, I was defiant and found him to be callous and kind of smug, but I went. They wanted me to start medications but I was resistant, I would skip doses and eventually stopped taking it completely. I went back for a third semester, thinking maybe things would be okay. But they were not.

I started smoking pot everyday. My grades were slipping and I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. Winter 2011 I went back home and had a major breakdown when it was time to head back to Boston. I think that was finally when my parents realized I needed more help. So I withdrew from college, started going for therapy and Reiki healing. I started feeling better, but I still had a lot of emotions I couldn’t deal with. Therapy helped, but when I started college in Delhi, I stopped therapy. I convinced everyone I was okay, I didn’t feel like my soul was being sucked out, so I must be better. I still had intense mood swings and anxiety attacks but I thought those were just normal now.

Three years of college, with a lot of ups and downs, more self-harm, but all this was kept a secret – to everyone else I was better. I didn’t need medication or therapy anymore, I was over my depression. After I graduated, I took a gap year and was working at an organization and out of nowhere all those thoughts came back.

“I hate this job, maybe I should hurt myself so I can quit. Maybe I should die so I don’t have to deal with this? I am worthless, I am useless.”

I spent hours crying on the bathroom floor wondering “Why am I like this?” I told my parents and they kinda freaked out, but were far more supportive. So I met a new psychiatrist who I loved, and he referred me to a therapist who changed my life. She did a bunch of tests and diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. I loved working with her, she didn’t put up with any of my bullshit. I worked through a lot of issues with her, including some trauma I had faced as a child. I had been sexually abused by my grandfather on visits to India when I was younger. And when my family moved back to India, I had to see him and pretend nothing happened. That was one of the major issues I always struggled with, and even then I didn’t come to peace with it. I spoke to her about my past relationships, one of which was emotionally abusive. I told her about all the issues I had with my body and self-worth.

For a few months I worked on therapy, I was doing well in general. So I decided, “Hey let me apply to grad school!” I did, and got into University of Chicago, which was so unexpected. I was ecstatic, I thought “YAY! I am gonna go to Chicago, it’s gonna be awesome cause I am well now.” I got here, and I thought things would be good. But two months in, I started feeling isolated again. I stopped taking medication, again. I stopped therapy, again. I met this guy, and we were in a “non-relationship,” but I would spend all my time with him. And he would drink and smoke pot a lot, so I would drink and smoke pot a lot. By a lot, I mean five to six times a week. Sometimes, even every single day. I wasn’t eating well; I wasn’t sleeping well.

I went to visit my parents in Malta for Spring break and I had to spend the week sober. I also got news that I had failed a class that week. When I got back to Chicago after that week, I broke down. I spent hours crying and called my uncle and told him I need help. I got to Naperville on Wednesday night and Thursday morning I admitted myself into an In-Patient program. During program, I told myself, listen to what they say, do what they say, tell them what they want to hear. I started medication again and went back to campus. Two weeks in, I still hadn’t made any appointments for therapy, I was taking my medication but wasn’t eating. I was sleeping 14 hours a day. I wasn’t bathing or taking care of myself. I had a presentation in class which I broke down during and I knew I was not ready. I went back to Naperville, and then admitted myself into a Partial-Hospitalization Program. I took a leave of absence and decided that I had to focus only on my mental health.  

 

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I was in class, trying to give a presentation on material I knew, but I was so tongue-tied and anxious that the professor told me to stop talking. That day I knew I had to do something. I didn’t want to suffer my whole life. I wanted to do so much to help so many people, my goal is to become a teacher and I can’t do that if I am not well. I decided I needed to get my shit together.

 

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

The last few months after getting discharged from the program have been relatively easy because I have been spending time with my family. I still have days when I get extremely anxious. I still have days when I worry I won’t be okay or that I am not good enough. There are days when my thoughts overwhelm me and I lay in bed wondering if everything I am doing is wrong. I have my sob-fests. But now, I know what to tell myself, I know that I have to use positive self-talk, that I have to be self-compassionate. I know that I should just ride the wave and let the emotions flow. I’ve been reading a lot about DBT and I have been practicing my skills and they actually help! I never thought they would but they do! I am going back to school in a few weeks, and I know a lot of stressors are going to come my way. But I feel like I have an arsenal ready for all the stuff that life can throw at me. And I know what I have to do if I feel myself slipping. I am also getting a cat, so yay! 

 

  

 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

I think that it has given me the ability to empathize with people. I feel like when you struggle so much in life, you have a little bit of an understanding of other’s struggles. I also know that it has given me strength, if I can survive all the shit I have done to myself, I can survive anything. It has also helped me figure out what I want to do with my life, I feel like I could really use my experiences to help adolescents with their struggles and plan to pursue a career in guidance counseling.

I also think that it has given me a new voice. For a long time, I was silent about my struggles, but recently I have started speaking out through Instagram. The mental health community on Instagram has been so supportive and kind. We all cheer each other on and it is so beautiful to see. Mental illnesses can be so isolating, it is important to see that you are not alone. 

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

Do not give up. Things actually can get better.

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below to be potentially featured on the blog! 

Post Therapy Thoughts // Finding My Fire

I won’t lie to you guys, it’s been a rough going for me lately. With life and my anxiety reaching an all-time high last week, I decided to take the long Labor Day weekend for some much-needed self care and rest. Boy, did I need it. 

I’ve always had a problem with stopping. Taking the time to reflect and knowing everything will be alright in the “in between.” Over the entire holiday, my anxiety was triggered with fearful thoughts.

 

What if your writing isn’t as good when you come back? 

What if no one cares anymore? 

What if you stop relating to others? 

 

Swirling around my mind like a toxic milkshake, these thoughts overwhelmed me – but only for a little while. Therapy has taught me to be mentally stronger, so I know how to combat these irrational thoughts. Speaking of my fantastic therapist, I was beyond ready to have my bi-weekly session today. Getting emotional even on the drive there, I knew I needed to pour out my feelings.

Starting off the session explaining my day to day triggers and stressors, the discussion eventually turned to the topic that has been giving me the most anxiety: writer’s block. 

One of the reasons I decided to take this pause from the blog was because I was completely drained. Barely making out the words, I was sobbing even at the thought of saying I couldn’t write for Anxiety Erica – it’s everything. Why I come home excited, how I heal through my words, a safe space.

With an almost saint-like grace and wisdom, it was like my therapist knew that was the root of my issues. Her immediate response was to make the most of “me” time.

Embrace the pause 

 

“We must learn to be okay with, and embrace, pause time.”

Learning to completely stop is something I’m not good at. I will go and go until I can’t anymore – and I found out exactly what that feels like this week. It’s essential to spend time within ourselves and nurture the passion we have, rekindle the fire.

Whether that means staying in bed most days powering through a Netflix marathon, being around family and close friends, or even getting outside on a hike – do what you need to feed your soul. Reclaim your motivation.

 

Master the art of compartmentalization 

 

Writing has always been something I live and breathe. Not only a passion, but a purpose. It has been a goal in the past few years to make it a career, and with my current position being a Copywriter – I would say I can check off that to-do on my list.

Unfortunately, once writing became a daily part of my position, it turned from a passion to a chore. Where I once wrote about things that gave me fire, connection to others and authenticity, I was becoming completely drained from the “work” aspect of an entirely different form of the written word.

While I cried on the couch, feeling hopeless and like nothing would help me find my fire again, my therapist said these words:

“Just like we have different types of friends, we have several forms of writing too.”

Then, it clicked. Through the art of compartmentalizing, I could cultivate my fire again. When obligation and timeframe wanders its way into writing, the passion can immediately be sucked out. In order to find my fire, I needed to categorize my creativity, like so:

Work writing 

The creativity surrounding the writing I do during the day, i.e. Copywriting duties, any writing involving my work or company.

Passion writing 

Authentic, vulnerable and emotional words that I write whenever I feel inspired or motivated in life. It is where my connection to others starts, and ultimately – it’s for pleasure. 

 

The motivation to get up each and every day and slice out a piece of your soul for the world to read is fucking hard. Most people don’t realize the extent to which writers will go for authenticity and sometimes, a break is needed.

I’m proud of myself for taking this time to pause and reflect because now that I’ve rested, I’m quickly gaining back the energy and inspiration to hold my heart in front of you all again – finding my fire and coming home with my own words. 

 

 

Do you have trouble with writer’s block? Share your own tips on combating it in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Sarah

Growing up in a family with mental illness, Sarah was no stranger to suffering. Living with anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia since she was just four years old, she didn’t reach out and get help until the intense hypomania of her undiagnosed bipolar disorder took a dark turn. 

Trading in her straight-A student role for an out of control musician, this creative soul eventually realized that medication would save her life. Not just surviving, Sarah is thriving through bipolar disorder. Writing music around mental health, performing at high schools to educate teens, and even practicing aerial yoga, these fantastic forms of self care have kept her going, while helping others heal as well.

 

Meet Sarah. 

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Name: Sarah Jickling

Age: 26

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I’ve had anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia for as long as I can remember. I come from a family with mental illness on both sides, and I grew up watching grown ups struggle, panic, and lose control, so I thought my experiences were just par for the course. When I was four, I slept with a fisher price knife under my pillow because I was scared someone would crawl through my window. When I was eight, my parents gave up trying to find a way to help me sleep after exhausting all their resources. When I was fourteen, I had one of my panic attacks, the one where suddenly everything is in slow motion and I forget basic motor skills, during a french class and failed a test for the first time. No one seemed to think any of this was out of the ordinary, and I never went to the school counsellor because none of the teachers even knew my name. I was too quiet.

But the quiet was about to end. In my late teens and early twenties, I went from a shy straight A student with an artistic side to a university-drop out musician who drank wine on the bus and had screaming matches in the streets. I felt completely out of control. One day I would feel excited, and feel sure that I was in the right place at the right time and it was only a matter of time before I would be opening for Feist on the big stage at a festival, and then I would wake up a few days later feeling heavy, feeling empty, and for the first time, suicidal. I would go to band practice and lie on the floor in tears. Everyone realized something was happening before I did. My behaviour pushed away my best friend, every boyfriend I had, my bandmates, and my roommates. People begged me to get help. People told me that I was broken and I needed to be fixed or no one would ever want anything to do with me. This was bipolar disorder, a new beast that was harder to ignore than anxiety and panic attacks. 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

The thing about bipolar disorder is that it can seem like so many different illnesses depending on when you go to the doctor. The first time I decided to get help was when my best friend told me she wouldn’t be my friend unless I went on medication. I went to my family doctor who promptly diagnosed me with depression and put me on a waitlist to see a psychiatrist. But of course, soon I felt better, I felt like I didn’t need a doctor and I couldn’t imagine why I thought I ever did, and I would cancel the appointment. The second time I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2. I rejected this diagnosis because I knew I was “crazy,” and I really didn’t want my ex-boyfriend to be right. Bipolar was something people had been teasing me about for quite some time.

The third time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I found myself at the hospital on boxing day, a week after my soulmate told me he couldn’t watch me suffer anymore. The doctor spent some time tracking my moods and finally asked me if I had ever “heard of bipolar disorder before,” worried she would scare me away with that big word. By that time, I had done enough research and read enough books to know that I had bipolar disorder. I accepted the diagnosis without a second thought. The doctor said that treating the bipolar might take away my ability to write songs, and that a lot of people miss the creativity of hypomania when they go on medication. I didn’t care about being a musician anymore. I didn’t care about anything but getting better.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

It’s true that medication changes the creative process for people with bipolar disorder. Before my recovery, I would black out and wake up with a song. It was the only easy thing in my life. But bipolar doesn’t provide me with my creativity. Hypomania provides artists with a chance to write without our inner critic. I’m now learning to write songs thoughtfully, with extreme focus. It’s harder, but not impossible. 

My medication has completely stabilized me, but it does have it’s unfortunate side effects. I sleep a lot. I am constantly dehydrated. I can’t drink alcohol anymore. And of course, the unexplained ecstasy of hypomania is gone from my life forever.  But I can have a steady job, a real relationship and a working memory, so I think it’s worth it. My life is still all about coping with bipolar, anxiety and panic attacks though. I exercise every single day, I take mindfulness classes, I go to DBT groups, I see my therapist and my psychiatrist often. I put my mental health before any job or other responsibility. I think back to a time not so long ago when I was overdosing, praying I would never wake up, and I remember that vigilant self care is the only thing that has kept me from returning to those life or death situations. 

I also write music about my mental illness and share them with others. I’m lucky to have an outlet, and I’ve found a community of artists also dealing with mental illness who help inspire me to keep going.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

Living with anxiety has forced me to learn how to rationally face my fears. When your fears are every where, you can’t help but bump into them at every turn. Now I feel as though I can do almost anything, whether that be travel to a different country or play on a stage to thousands of people. Learning to treat my anxiety has introduced me to all sorts of fantastic coping mechanisms… from mindfulness to aerial yoga to pole dancing! 

Living with bipolar disorder, on the other hand, has given me an ability to help other people. I have learned to live with a severe mental illness and now I get to help others, whether that’s through releasing my new album “When I Get Better,” or performing at high schools with the BC Schizophrenia Society’s musical/educational show “Reach Out Psychosis.” It’s also a great way to weed out fickle friends. If you have friends who will stick with you through bipolar treatment, you have very good friends.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

You are worth loving, even with your mental illnesses. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be forgotten immediately. 

 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Kelsey

Diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when she was just five or six years old, Kelsey also lives with OCD and GAD. Surrounded by constant triggers and fears, this beautiful, brave soul made the leap into therapy – it was the best decision she ever made. 

Inspired by her Instagram account and her own therapist, Kim, she realized her true calling lies in helping others heal. Now a psychology major, she plans on getting her masters and becoming a licensed therapist.

Paving her own path through multiple mental illnesses, read about Kelsey’s journey below.

 

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Name: Kelsey

Age: 24

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’ve had OCD for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when I was around five or six. It’s a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements. What it feels like is similar to OCD, I would have an urge to make a certain movement and the anxiety would just build and build until I did it, and then the relief came instantly. I still struggle with this but it much more minor now. I believe I developed OCD from the TS. It is very common for people who have TS to also develop OCD. I remember having problems with numbers, specifically the number 6. I had a counting compulsion and if I ever thought that the number I stopped on related to the number 6, I would have to start over. I had a huge problem with germs, it’s better now but I still have a contamination issue. I also had an intense fear of seeing other peoples vomit, which is a quite common phobia of OCD sufferers. I remember constantly saying the word “no” every so often in my head just in case there was some evil force listening to my thoughts and in case they were going to ask me to do something terrible without me knowing, I knew that I was always saying “no” to whatever voice that I believed was in my head.

I was, and still am, afraid that something bad will happen to someone if I just simply say that something bad is going to happen to them. I have also always had a tapping compulsion. Also intrusive, obsessive thoughts that I cannot turn off is a huge struggle for me still to this day. Disturbing thoughts and imaginations pop up in my head sometimes without control. I am continuing to get my OCD under control, I have had much improvement with therapy. The GAD I believe stemmed from the OCD. I am medicated for that, but along with the OCD, it is something that I will have for the rest of my life which is fine by me. As long as I stay medicated and continue with therapy, my condition can always be much worse, so I am thankful that I have learned how to cope so that I can no longer let it control me or interfere with my everyday life.

  

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I was in one of the darkest periods of my life. It started fall of 2013 and finally ended summer of 2014. I was in my third year of community college with no direction. In my last semester there, I dropped each class one by one and finally decided to drop out in January 2014. I was no longer in school, had no job, and looking for a job gave me intense anxiety so I was unsuccessful in keeping one. I had started and quit three different jobs within the time span of three months due to anxiety attacks. Once my mom witnessed one for the first time, she took me in to see my PCP. He prescribed me Lexapro to take daily, and Xanax as needed.

Within the next month or two, my head felt like it was screwed on straight and I decided to go back to school. It was a tech school, so I only took the needed classes for the subject and it only took me a year. A whole year after that, I was done working at the horrible office I was in and got a new job, the one I have currently been at for exactly one year now. The process of getting a new job put a huge dent in my mental health. I was anxious 24/7, I had to take Xanax more often, I was a complete mess. I carried on and finally, after still suffering with the worsening GAD decided to see a therapist. I have now been seeing her since October of 2016. Not long after I started seeing her, we decided that the Lexapro was no longer having an effect on me and I went to my PCP to see if she had any opinions. She switched me to Effexor, which is a SSNRI as opposed to a SSRI. This switched worked a little but a few panic attacks later we upped my dose and ever since I finally feel like for the first time in my life my brain has the right amount of Serotonin and Norepinephrine to keep me at a reasonably calm level on a daily basis, and with the help of my therapist, I am at the best place in my mental health that I’ve ever been.

  

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

As I said, I have improved a tremendous amount at this point in my life. The medication simply fixed a chemical imbalance that I was born with. It runs in my family, (the women on my mom’s side struggle with depression, my mom is also on Effexor, my sister struggles with OCD and GAD as well and is also medicated and in therapy), so I am very grateful for the simple fix that is anti-depressants. As for therapy, it has completely transformed my life. My lovely therapist, Kim, tells me at every session just how much she has seen me improve and she, along with myself, is very proud of me and the amount of work I have done.

We have learned many DBT tricks, and also have done quite a bit of CBT.  At the moment, my GAD is under control with the help of the meds, DBT, and CBT I have done. We are primarily working on OCD at the moment. We have done a lot of exposure therapy which is very difficult but once you get through the tough parts, it gets easier and easier. I have so far gotten rid of three compulsions! I still have quite a way to go, but I have come such a long way.

  

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

It has helped me see the world in a way that I never would have if I never had mental illness. As horrible as it has been for me, I am grateful for it. Not only has it shaped me as the strong, brave woman that I am today, but it has also led me to the new career path that I have recently started on. I have decided to become a therapist myself. Kim and I came to the conclusion early on in meeting with each other that I am not fulfilled enough in my life with the career I am in. I do like medical assisting, but it is not something that I would be happy doing for the rest of my life. In one of our first couple of sessions we got to the root of what I truly want in my life: to help people like me.

 I will be finishing my first two classes next week. I am now a psychology major and my long term goal is to get my masters and become a licensed therapist myself. It is currently fueling my life and I am so freaking excited about my future! Which that alone excites me because I have never been able to say that before. It has also lead me to this wonderful community that I have found on Instagram. I’ve been on it for a year and a half now and it has been so healing for me. I get inspired every time I go on and see so many strong people in recovery and all of the people spreading positivity and love to one another.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

Stay strong. Be brave. Focus on taking care of yourself first. As bad as it may seem right now, it will get better. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be impossible to see right now, it may take a long time, but you will get there eventually.

 Hold on and never give up. Your mental health comes first, don’t worry about where you’re headed, the universe will put you exactly where you need to be at exactly the time you are supposed to be there. Trust the process!

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog!